How bad could allergies get this fall? What Canadians can expect


Allergy sufferers, grab your tissues as fall gets underway in Canada, stirring up the spread of pollen and mould into the air.

Overall pollen counts have been increasing year over year nationally, but most parts of the country will likely see lower than normal levels in the fall during the weed season, said Daniel Coates, director of Aerobiology Research Laboratories.

In August, when ragweed season typically starts, pollen levels in Canada were the lowest they have been since 2016, said Coates, whose lab in Ottawa monitors pollen and spores across the country and predicts what the allergy season may look like.

“For the most part, we are going to see lower than typical pollen levels for the fall season,” he told Global News in an interview.

As the weather gets cooler and wetter and leaves start to fall, mould is another nuisance that can trigger some people’s allergy symptoms.

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“This is the time of year when a lot of people do experience mould-induced symptoms, particularly late in the fall,” said Dr. Anne Ellis, president of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Western Canada in particular is seeing “moderate to high levels” of mould spores, which is more than usual for this time of the year, Coates said.

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Seasonal allergies happen all year round, but respiratory viruses, like flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), that surge in the fall and winter can cause confusion this time of the year due to overlapping symptoms, Ellis said.

“I think it’s just important for people to realize that allergies or hay fever can seem like it’s just a nuisance, but for some patients, they really do suffer,” she told Global News in an interview.

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Symptoms like sneezing, nasal congestion and runny nose are common to both respiratory infections and allergies, Ellis said.

While itchy, watery eyes and nasal itching are more pronounced during allergies, things like sore throat, muscle aches and pains, fatigue and fever are more common for respiratory infections.

Besides pollen and mould spores, dust mites are another allergen to watch out for throughout the year.

These microscopic spiders can live in people’s bedding and can be hard to avoid, Ellis said.

Dust allergies present the same symptoms as pollen, like runny nose or nasal congestion, she added.

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How to protect yourself and relieve symptoms

To keep outdoor allergens from entering your homes and cars, keep the windows closed, Ellis and Coates advised.

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Using air conditioning when it’s still warm enough can help reduce the amount of pollen exposure inside the house, Ellis added.

It’s not a good idea to air-dry clothes outside because it might allow the pollen to settle on them, she cautioned.

Wearing masks and sunglasses is also a good measure to minimize the exposure to pollen and spores, Coates said. Drinking plenty of water helps flush out the system, he added.

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For dust mites, Ellis suggested purchasing impermeable covers to put on mattresses and pillows, where these pesky bugs tend to live and hide.

For people suffering from allergy symptoms, Ellis recommended the daily use of non-drowsy antihistamines, which she said are more effective than the sedating ones. They can be bought over the counter or taken by prescription. Nasal steroids are also highly effective, she said.

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But for those who want to avoid taking any medication, rinsing your mouth with salt water can help relieve some of the symptoms as well, Ellis said.

If you do suffer symptoms each year, don’t be afraid to consult an allergist who can offer immunotherapy, which can change your immune system so that you’re no longer having allergic symptoms, she said.

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